SDLP launch New Ireland Commission today with new expert panel announced

The SDLP has launched the first panel of its New Ireland Commission with numerous civic, faith, community and business leaders among its make up.

Thursday, 6th May 2021, 7:52 am

Speaking as the panel met for the first time on Thursday, SDLP Leader Colum Eastwood said work would now be taken forward on public and health services, the economy and schools and to set out a vision for new services rooted in practical detail.

The Foyle MP said that the combined experience of the New Ireland Commission’s Expert Reference Panel is “an unmatched resource that will fuel public debate and discourse about constitutional change on these islands”.

“This is the beginning of the real conversation about what type of society we want to be. Instead of platitudes and demands, the SDLP is rolling up our sleeves to work with people across our communities, to have the difficult conversations and to bring forward the practical detail that has been lacking from the constitutional debate,” Mr Eastwood said.

SDLP Leader Colum Eastwood. (Photo PressEye)

“The SDLP’s initiative is unique. We won’t shy away from the challenges and we are not afraid to challenge ourselves. We know that the only path to uniting the people of this island is through partnership, cooperation and reconciliation. Delivering a new Ireland demands that we all spill our sweat to forge new enduring relationships between the people of this island and that we demonstrate to everyone that we can build a new society together for all our communities with respect and accommodation for difference and for diversity.

“Today the SDLP is launching the first panel of its New Ireland Commission which brings together civic, faith, community and business leaders who will take forward the critical work of engaging with our communities and interrogating the challenges of reordering public services, health services, our economy and schools to meet the needs of our changing society. The combined experience of those who have come forward to play their part in a fundamental reimagining of our society is immense, unmatched and will fuel the debate on the constitutional future of this island.

“The work of the New Ireland Commission is about bringing people and communities together to imagine and build a new and shared future. This work is too important to be left to old battles of identity, recrimination or righting old wrongs. This is about coming together to build a new future in the substantial common interest of all our people. This will not be easy work, nor will it be comfortable for many of us, but it is necessary if we are to offer this generation and future generations a better chance for a better life.

“We will be making further announcements about the work of the Commission and its other panels in the coming weeks. The SDLP is looking forward to working with everyone in our communities as we embark on this conversation about the type of society and the type of future we want to see. Now more than ever, we need to reach out, challenge ourselves and challenge others to seek the change that citizens across this island need and deserve.”

The members of the New Ireland Commission Experts and Reference Panel are:

MATTHEW O’TOOLE MLA - Convenor of the Reference and Experts Panel.

SIOBHAN FITZPATRICK - Former Chief Executive Early Years – internationally recognised authority on children in /emerging from conflict.

REV. NORMAN HAMILTON - Former Moderator of the Presbyterian Church, has led mediation and dialogue initiatives on contested issues in Northern Ireland.

RICKY O’RAWE - Ex-republican prisoner, commentator and author including “Blanketmen” and “In the Name of the Son: the Gerry Conlon Story.”

DENIS BRADLEY - Former Vice-Chair of the Northern Ireland Policing Board, commentator, co-author “Consultative Group on the Past” and public /community health activist

CATHERINE GHENT - One of the foremost Child Law practitioners in Ireland, based in Dublin.

PETER SMYTH CBE QC - Member of the Patten Commission, one time Secretary of the Official Unionist Party and former Chair Life Sentence Review Commissioners.

PROF. JOHN BARRY - Professor of Green Political Economy, Queens University Belfast and climate activist.

JOHN PATRICK CLAYTON - Trade unionist and rights activist.

LILIAN SEENOI BARR – North West Migrants Forum

ANDY POLLAK - Former Irish Times journalist, editor, writer and founding Director of the Centre for Cross-Border Studies.

BRIAN BARRINGTON - Dublin barrister and previously Special Adviser to Seamus Mallon and Mark Durkan as deputy First Minister.

JOHN CULLINANE - Boston-based USA software entrepreneur, created “Friends of Belfast” and focussed on the Good Friday Agreement peace dividend for Northern Ireland.

CONOR HOUSTON - Civic activist, Governor Irish Times Trust.

BRENDAN Mc MAHON - Former senior official Anglo-Irish Department of Foreign Affairs and one-time Irish Ambassador to South Africa.

CHRIS MACCABE CBE - Former Political Director Northern Ireland Office and currently Honorary Professor of Practice of Conflict Resolution Mitchell Institute QUB.

GERRY COSGROVE - Former General Secretary SDLP and community activist.

PROF. JOHN COAKLEY - Emeritus professor, School of Politics and International relations UCD and specialises in the study of Irish Politics, North-South/East-West, comparative politics and ethnic conflict.

BRONAGH SCOTT - Former Director of Nursing, Policy and Practice, Royal College of Nursing and member Bengoa Panel, “Systems not Structures - Changing Health and Social Care (NI).”

DAVID CANNING - For 26 years up to 2017 Principal of Strabane Primary School, educationalist, community and church activist.

PAUL GOSLING - Writer and commentator specialising in the economy, government and the public sector.

JUDE WHYTE - Survivor, victims campaigner, FE college lecturer and former Students Union activist.

BREIDGE GADD - Former NI Chief Probation Officer, commentator and charity activist.

MICHAELA HOLYWOOD - Charity campaigns officer and disability rights/rights activist.

DAMIAN McATEER - Background in social enterprise, public financing and design of public policy; former Ministerial Special Adviser.

PROF. TONY GALLAGHER - School of Social Sciences, Education and Social Work, Queens University Belfast, leading educationalist and commentator.

OIREACHTAS: SENATOR ANNIE HOEY (Labour)

OIREACHTAS: SENATOR EMER CURRIE (Fine Gael)

OIREACHTAS: SENATOR MALCOLM BYRNE (Fianna Fáil)

SDLP MEMBERSHIP

NICHOLA MALLON MLA Deputy Leader, Minister of Infrastructure NI Executive

CLAIRE HANNA MP Member of Parliament for South Belfast

HEATHER WILSON works in the housing sector, previously roles in SDLP press and policy.